Essential Buyer Questions

Evaluating a Customer Reference Management Solution

Here are the essential questions every buyer should ask…but often doesn’t think to ask. Solutions have become quite sophisticated, and it’s hard to know everything after just a demo or two. Ask the provider (and their references) these questions to make the most informed decision.

Program Management Support
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How does your technology drive user adoption?

:: Why it matters

This is top-of-mind for all software vendors. Deploying technology is half the equation. Changing behavior requires organizational support, awareness, education and incentive. Ask how the solution helps with user re-programming, and what change management support the vendor provides.

How will your technology help me build my advocate database?

:: Why it matters

Many companies start with a smattering of reference contact information stored in a variety of places. However, a critical mass of reference accounts and contacts are needed before they launch a customer reference management program. There are a variety of ways to accelerate the building of the database. Find out how the solution supports this need, and also what best practices the provider offers.

How does your solution help me quantify the value of my program?

:: Why it matters

This is so essential for the program’s credibility, to sustaining leadership support, and to getting the budget needed to stand up a truly impactful program. Ask what the solution offers in terms of reporting, and dashboards. Ask the provider how they can help you correlate program activity with top company growth imperatives, because ultimately, this is how you get on the C-suite’s radar.

How does the technology help us identify new reference customers?

:: Why it matters

You can never have enough reference customers. People change jobs. Clients churn.

Ask how the solution ensures that the data users search is kept up-to-date and complete. If this isn’t done then the reliability of search results will quickly come into question and users will go back to finding references the old-fashioned way (i.e., the shadow market), which will drain the life out of your program.

How does your solution help us keep reference information current?

:: Why it matters

Reference information will become outdated. You want a way to continuously update customer reference information, but not be overburdening any one team or individual. Users must be able to trust the data in their search results, or they won’t use the database you’ve built.

How does the solution help us scale the program?

:: Why it matters

Customer reference management programs are typically understaffed, as is customer marketing in general. A program is often asked to manage advisory boards, customer content production, customer communities and support all reference requests. More and more staff is needed, or there must be automation to handle the tactical, manual, time-consuming aspects of the program. A robust solution will address the most tactical processes and free you, the program manager, to focus on higher value, strategic activities. That’s how a program scales.

What reference request management models does your application support?

:: Why it matters

Each company is different. Whether you’re looking for a more efficient way to provide “white glove” service, or need a way to scale without adding significant head count (i.e., remove the “middleman”), a reference management system should provide options and offer efficiencies.

How does your solution handle customer content management?

:: Why it matters

There are many considerations related to content such as case studies, customer videos, press releases and anything else salespeople need. You should be able to store source files anywhere you like. Regardless of whether a user has a customer reference management app license or not, they should still be able to access the content. There should be a solid search page, and an easy way to share content with prospects. Ask how you will be able to correlate the use of customer content to closed sales opportunities, and which content is making the biggest impact so you can create more of it.

How is reporting accomplished?

:: Why it matters

Data-driven marketing organizations must have data analysis-friendly technology. To provide the stats required, the data must be easily accessed, there must be powerful reporting (and dashboard) tools, and there must be expertise around those tools. You should expect a set of pre-built reports and dashboard charts, but you should have the capability to modify reports and create your own unique reports. It’s reasonable to expect guidance from the vendor when creating new reports. But you should not be dependent on the vendor when it comes to creating reports. That just means the data schema is too complex (or outdated) for anyone but a SQL query technician to accomplish.

You should be able to schedule the running of recurring reports and delivery to specific users via email. This capability will save you hours of time responding to ad hoc report requests from managers and executives. You want to be able to set it and forget it.

Are there dashboards, and if so, how do they work?

:: Why it matters

Dashboards are not only useful to a program manager, but they’re also useful to Sales users competing in a contest (think leader boards), and to executives who want to keep an eye on the program’s performance. Dashboard chart options should be robust, and visibility of those charts should be front and center for the intended audiences. They shouldn’t have to go looking for information, it should find them.

User Experience
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How does your solution help a user find the best references?

:: Why it matters

The main promise of a reference management system is efficiency, time savings. The application should have a way to save time in finding the best matching reference customers, and customer content relative to an opportunity (in the case of Sales). This can be done in a variety of ways. Evaluate how a vendor has chosen to accomplish this goal and how realistic their approach is to achieving the end goal. Don’t fall for demo candy.

What search options are available to users?

:: Why it matters

Users should have the ability to filter and perform keyword searches to find what they’re looking for. In fact, using filters and keywords should be possible in a single search if necessary. Pay close attention to how search works during the demos. If any features feel too fluffy be sure to vet them to ensure they’re practical, and truly add value.

What type of product training do you provide?

:: Why it matters

Find out not only how the vendor provides training to end-users and administrators of their solution, but how much training time is needed for administrators in particular. If a significant amount of time is needed that may be an indication of system complexities, workarounds and other convoluted processes required to make common system changes. You will live with these complications. Ask the vendor’s references how they find the administration to be and how much they must rely on the vendor because of the complexity.

How does your application support users in different geos?

:: Why it matters

Many companies offer their Salesforce CRM users in different countries the option of changing the UI language. This is done to remove adoption barriers. Find out if the vendor’s application can be localized, in what languages, who does it, and if there is an extra cost.

How are system notifications handled?

:: Why it matters

Customer reference management systems notify various users as part of solution processes (e.g., confirmations, reminders, etc.). Ask how notifications are delivered both inside Salesforce CRM, and outside. Also find out if, and if so, how notifications may be customized and by whom. Lastly, are there any costs for the customization?

Technical Considerations
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How often is your application updated/enhanced?

:: Why it matters

A good solution provider will not rest on its laurels. It will continue to evolve to adapt to the needs of forward thinking customer advocate programs. Ask about the frequency of updates, get a sense of what has been added in the last year and why. The reason you purchase a 3rd party application is because, in theory, the provider will be more focused on your needs and add “crowd-sourced” features, you may never have thought of, that make you better.

How and where is your application hosted?

:: Why it matters

The cyber world is rife with hackers. GDPR violations comes with steep penalties. You want to know that your data is hosted in a world-class environment where all the necessary certifications are held. 

When was your technology designed/architected?

:: Why it matters

Imagine designing your dream home when you were 20. Now imagine designing your dream home today with your accumulated life experience. They’d be very different homes. Today’s customer marketing programs require flexible reporting, gamification, sophisticated automation, adaptable request routing options, and more. That dream house you designed at 20 didn’t take into account how your life and needs would change, and the constraints of the original plan becomes unworkable.

An application designed like that first dream home will have natural limitations in the area of reporting (due to data schema), agile updates and configuration support (how much can be done by your team vs. the vendor’s technical team). You live with your vendor’s limitations, for life, so make sure the design is contemporary and expandable.

How does your solution leverage Salesforce data?

:: Why it matters

If Salesforce is your system of record, then your customer reference management system ought to make use of as much of that data as possible. It’s a best practice. However, if you don’t have complete confidence in the quality of reference program-related data, then your customer reference management system should have a plan B.

Does your application support both Lightning and Classic UIs?

:: Why it matters

Whether your company is using the Classic or Lightning Salesforce interface, your customer reference management technology should be seamless from a user experience perspective or it will be a barrier to adoption. Familiarity reduces learning curve and potential confusion.

What product integrations do you offer?

:: Why it matters

There is great synergy to be had when your customer reference management system can work seamlessly with Influitive, Tech Validate, Gainsight, SlapFive and enterprise marketing applications such as Eloqua, Marketo and Pardot. In the case of Influitive, your customer reference management system should be able to issue, track and redeem customer rewards related to completed activities. Customer success data concerning NPS or health scores should be leveraged by your customer reference management solution. Understand how the reference management solution fits into the ecosystem and if there are costs associated with integration.

Time & Money Considerations
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Is everything we saw in the demo included in the pricing provided?

:: Why it matters

You know how pictures of cars in ads always add the caveat that while the base price is X, the model shown in the ad is X plus a lot of extras? Some software vendors do the same thing. They show the souped up model with all the add-ons. You don’t want to stake your budget on the base model then later find out that those add-ons you liked in the demo will add 20%, 30% or more to the purchase price. So be diligent in knowing what is included in the price quoted. Ask a vendor’s references if there were any cost surprises after contract signing.

What resources are needed from us to implement and maintain the solution?

:: Why it matters

Look for a method that ensures a smooth transition between stages, and also get an understanding of how much time is required from you and your technical resources. This will help you set expectations with leadership. In addition, a well-designed application won’t require as much effort as one that requires a lot of manual steps to pull off. This is also a great question to ask a vendor’s customer references.

What configuration options can we not do ourselves?

:: Why it matters

This is a potential source of additional cost, hassle and lost time. A well-designed (i.e., meets current market need) solution will put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to configuring how the system works. When the answer is, “We’ll need to do that for you,” you’ve got a bottleneck. That work may also come with a price tag (“We can customize that, like in the demo, for $####.”).

What types of support are billable, both during implementation and beyond?

:: Why it matters

This is where many vendors generate a lot of additional income. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what is part of the startup services and subscription price, and what is additional. No one, especially executives, likes budget surprises.